Hacker collective fails to take a byte out of Israel

An Occupy London protester wearing the Anonymous face mask (Photo: AP)

An Occupy London protester wearing the Anonymous face mask (Photo: AP)

The much-heralded #OpIsrael, a campaign by the hacker collective Anonymous to “wipe Israel off the face of the internet”, created a good deal of media hype but failed to cause much more than a nuisance to Israelis.

If all you had been following over the weekend were the Twitter accounts of various Anonymous activists and those of organisations such as Hamas’s Al Qassam Brigades in Gaza, you may have come under the impression that Israel was under a cybernetic siege.

Every few minutes, another list of hundreds of Israeli websites, including those of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Mossad, appeared, under the heading DOWN! or DEFACED!, along with promises of huge leaks of confidential information hacked from Israeli databases.

In reality, with the exception of two non-essential government sites which were inaccessible for a short period on Saturday night, no major Israeli site, governmental or privately owned, suffered any significant damage or was forced offline. Anonymous is not an organisation in any normal sense of the word. It is more a loose network of like-minded hackers working around the world, backed by a wider web of supporters.

Some of its “members” are skilled in the art of internet sabotage and, in the past, have taken down websites of governments and corporations that have drawn their ire.

Others are rank amateurs whose talents amount to little more than bragging about non-existent achievements. Some claimed to have revealed the private phone number of Sara Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s wife, but it turned out to belong to a random lawyer.

The Shin Bet security agency, which is tasked also with defending Israel’s electronic infrastructure, announced on Monday morning that, while it remained vigilant, so far “no damage has been caused to government websites, and the sites which have been hit were those of private citizens with a basic level of defence”.

As the operation continued, the only prominent casualties were the websites of the national airline, El Al, which was forced offline for a short period, and the Tel Aviv stock exchange and Haaretz newspaper, which were significantly slowed down.

No major database was broken into except that of one small foreign exchange trading company, whose users’ details were published online.

The lack of success seems mainly due to the strong cyber-defence systems of most Israeli government agencies and corporations, which have faced hack-attacks for years.

In the absence of any showcase hacking, #OpIsrael will be remembered mainly for the way Anonymous activists succeeded in defacing Energy Minister Silvan Shalom’s Facebook page with a “Free Palestine” banner, only to have their own website hacked by pro-Israeli activists who planted on it hasbarah material.

Last updated: 4:27pm, April 11 2013